Neha Sen

Neha Sen is the culinary sensation cooking up a storm at Stones Corner.

The 2013 MasterChef contestant has made Brisbane home since moving from India with her family, blending the two cultures to create a range of fusion products for home cooks inspired to spice up dinner time.

"Food has always been my passion but never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get on MasterChef, never mind make a career out of it afterwards," she said.

"Starting out it was just me and my love of food. Now there are 18 of us in the business, our products are stocked in six different states and territories and I fly all over the place to promote what we do...it's all grown pretty quickly in three years!"

Neha uses different cuisines to bring people together, an approach which, sprinkled with fresh ideas for mixing Indian flavours and Aussie produce, has brought the Brisbane businesswoman success.

"Brisbane's been good to me - it's where I've become a businesswoman and established myself...I'm still just a massive foodie at heart."

What is your greatest business learning?

The whole business has been a learning for me! I didn't have any business people in my family to lean on so I've really started from scratch. The most important thing is to identify your mistakes and correct them as soon as possible - it'll save you time, money and resources.

What is your greatest business success?

Definitely the endorsements I've had from within the industry itself. I'm really just a foodie who found my way into the industry but I've now won 25 industry awards and that's given my brand credibility.

What three things should someone consider before starting a business?

  1. Consider how passionate you are about your idea - it'll take over a significant proportion of your life so you need to love what you do!
  2. Forget about getting much sleep, especially in the early stages of setting up your business.
  3. Understand how to manage your cash flow. That will either make or break your business.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I've got no regrets. If I'd done things differently I wouldn't have learnt as much as I have - how cash flow works, how to operate a forklift, how distribution works. I've put myself in the shoes of everyone who comes into contact with my products so I know what I can do differently, or better.

What have you found to be the most effective way to promote your business?

I know we live in the era of social media but you really can't beat face-to-face interaction with people. We go to a lot of food festivals, including Regional Flavours in Brisbane, to meet the people we're targeting. That translates into good word of mouth promotion.

How do you stay up to date with the latest business information?

I'm involved with trade shows and attend events across the world whenever I can. Living out of a suitcase can be challenging but you meet great people from across the industry through networking.

Where have you sought business advice?

I have five mentors from across the food industry. There's no university degree which will give you the intel that you can glean from their experiences. Having mentors helps to give you direction in what you're doing.

What financial factors should be considered when wanting to grow a business?

It's harder to manage growth than a crisis in my opinion so you need to forecast well. If you're doing things right, then your business will grow so make sure you manage your cash flow accordingly.

How do you manage risk?

Running a business is one big risk. It keeps me buzzing! Always make sure you're playing devil's advocate and brainstorming possible things that could go wrong. Have a buffer or a contingency plan.

What value do you place in business plans and why?

A business plan should ideally be your action plan for the next three years to keep you focused. It will stop you getting side-tracked from your end goal and give you a reference point to evolve your ideas.

06 November 2017